Transmutations: Visions emerging from reality

by barabeke
Transmutations: Visions emerging from reality

Most of my works from the past ten years have been based on photography. I always liked the idea that from reality as captured on camera a new visionary reality could emerge.

Some think mine are drawings or paintings, in reality I don’t draw anything by hand. What you see in most of my works is photography + extreme post-processing, without anything added but the photos (and occasionally lights and distortions).


More on my technique

I am the lucky owner of one of the best darkrooms in history: my phone.

If Ansel Adams could give my golden iPhone XR Max a try, it would blow his mind. We are so used to this thing we have in our pocket that we forget how profound is the revolution it is bringing, not just in the way humans creatively express themselves but also in what it means to be human (I wrote an eccentric poem about it called Ode to iPhone…).

With my phone I edit the photos I take with it, with plenty of blending and mirroring involved, using light and color filters, glitches produced by the wild post-processing, and some occasional circular mask, until a new visionary reality emerges from them.

The source photos, while often hard to recognize after my treatment, remain unchanged in their essential form (lines and shapes), which I preserve in its original proportions.

Matter remains intact. From it, I extract spirit. Or better I summon spirits, like a merry shaman having a party with them rather than an artist needing to express his sensitivity and inner struggles.

My main reason for creating the way I do is that I deeply enjoy it.


Transmutations: my inquiry

With my new transmutations series I am trying to get down to the core of my craft by working with only one photo.

Can I transmute any photo, even the most ordinary and dull one, into art? Can I do it by using just that photo, without changing its essential form, without any hand-drawing or other images involved? Can I do it with a “poor” tool, where with “poor” I mean that it can be found in everybody’s pockets more than pencils have ever been? And to what extent can I do it?


Precursor: a Citroen Pallas

It’s not the first time I use only one photo to create visionary art. An example is this series I created in 2018 out of a photo of one headlight of this 1972 Citroen Pallas, found at a wedding.


By using almost only that photo of the headlight, I generated this series (click on them to open slideshow).

To be fair only half of them could be part of my transmutations series, as in the other half a face has been superimposed. It was not a substantial intervention though, therefore this Citroen Pallas series can be considered as a precursor of the one I am presenting.


Transmutations series: definition & limits

In most of my works I have used the techniques described above (blending together 3 or 4 photos on average). I call transmutations only those that follow these self-imposed rules:

  • Use only one photo. No other image allowed.
  • Preserve the forms in that photo and their original proportions (no distortion allowed, unless it’s glass-like and not predominant).
  • Don’t draw anything by hand.
  • Use only blending, light and color filters, mirrors, and masks.

These rules are meant to make sure that the emerging vision is entirely made of reality as seen on the source photo. I like to see what I do as alchemy, and I approach it as such.


Transmutation 1: Statuette (aka “Bat-Queen”)

Normally, I work with recent photos taken with my phone. To launch this new series I got involved other artists in the crypto art scene, who kindly donated one photo for me to transmute.

This is my first transmutation.

On the left you can see the source image, a beautiful statuette by fellow artist lulu xXX. On the right, the transmutation I have made of it by using ONLY that photo. The following video will give you some insight on how I got from that photo to the final artwork.

I initially called it Bat-Queen (which I still find very appropriate), but in the end I decided that the visionary reality emerging from a photo should bear the name of what can be seen in that source photo.

So the final name of the piece above is Transmutation 1: Statuette and you can now collect it as cryptoart on (with a much smaller QR code/artist signature, here used as watermark).


Transmutation 2: going bananas

For my second transmutation, I used a photo of a monkey provided by pastelcrypto. The end result was the square image you can see in the first frame of the video.

Why going for a video, after all the photographic rules I have set? In the end what I look for is to provide the viewer with an experience, and I thought that adding motion and some effect could take this series to the next level, turning it into an infinite, mesmerizing video loop.

The title of the video art above (just the square video on the right) is Transmutation 2: Monkey eating a banana (infinite video loop).

Regardless of the added glitches (which are just an irregular interference) the essence of the photo remains unchanged: it’s still just a monkey (and son).


Transmutation 3: take me to church

My 3rd transmutation is entirely made out of a photo of a church @CoyotlCompany provided. After completing the final image by following my self-imposed rules, I though that also this could be more powerful as an infinite loop video.

Source photo: the interior of a church, provided by pastelcrypto

Transmutation 3: Interior of a church.


Transmutation 4: a sacred toilet

For my 4th transmutation I chose one photo I had in my library, of a toilet I used in Zurich. I wanted to make a statement out of it. Not anymore “give me any photo, I’ll turn it into art”. Now I was going for “give me an urinal, I’ll turn it into sacred art”.

Quite daring, indeed. But I think I have achieved it. The challenge led me to break the limits of my transmutations series by introducing a spiral distortion, which might remind of the flushing of a toilet… I trust it will more likely remind the viewer to breathe, to inhale and exhale following the artwork, which was designed to bring calmness and enhanced awareness.

The urinal this work is entirely based upon

Transmutation 4: public urinal.

You may argue that this is not “sacred” (or even art). What is sacred, after all? Also a golden veal can be.

Call it “spiritual”, if you prefer. I think that would be appropriate, as here I have summoned an ancient archetypal goddess that resides in our unconscious and that is recurrent in my works. She has many names, I tend to call it “the crone”. She’s more familiarly the old lady in fairy-tales, or the witch, or more broadly the dark side of a female trinity.

That urinal was transmuted into this old lady, her rainbowish vessel, and all the rest you can see. If you contemplate it long enough, and breathe as the toilet flushes, the old lady might speak to you somehow 😁

Here follows a clip of me presenting this toilet at VRAF 2020.

Full video of my presentation here).


Transmutation 5: Mona Lisa

My first 4 transmutations were all based on real-life photos from fellow artists or from my iPhone library. My post-processing on those photos has been heavy, but in all cases I preserved the “material” essence of the source photos (as to say the forms they portrayed in their original proportions).

In some special cases, I only need a small intervention to make a big difference. This is one of those cases.

For my 5th transmutation I used for the first time a photo of a painting, a very significant one for me: Mona Lisa (here is why). The transmutation I did of her was minimal, you can recognize it’s Mona Lisa… and yet she’s different!

From my transmutation technique, a new expression emerged from her…

While I didn’t paint her, she could only manifest in this form through my magic mirror. I caught her like a prey in the wild. She’s my game, therefore she will be known as Barabeke’s Mona Lisa 😎🌈

More info about this work here.

Thanks for your attention, I hope you enjoyed this visual journey and find my works and my unconventional artistic acts (e.g.: revelations) inspiring! 😊🙏

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